Reading this tweet about McConnell’s speech this morning and then watching the clip below, all I could think of was Trump begging him sporadically in 2017 and 2018 to nuke the filibuster and clear the way for the GOP to pass any bill it wanted, and Cocaine Mitch dismissing him at every turn:
McConnell warns Democrats of the GOP policies that would be signed into law if filibuster falls: nationwide right-to-work, defunding Planned P'hood and sanctuary cities, "sweeping" abortion restrictions, concealed carry reciprocity, "massive hardening" of the southern border.
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) March 16, 2021
That’s some list. To Trump, the opportunity to enact a full policy agenda was too precious to squander. To McConnell, the precedent of ending the filibuster was too dangerous long-term to use. He’s being consistent in today’s speech, in other words — but by admitting implicitly that he’ll never go all out to enact the policies conservatives most desperately want. Not unless Schumer moves first.
Which isn’t the sort of cautious leadership that the MAGA-era Republican base craves, I sense.
Anyway. He’s warned Schumer and the Democrats before that he’ll use every means of obstruction available to him if they nuke the filibuster but he’s feeling newly anxious about it lately, now that Stacey Abrams has called for a “tactical” nuclear strike to pass H.R. 1 and Joe Manchin is talking about reforms like forcing the minority to stage a “talking filibuster” to block legislation. Just yesterday, Dick Durbin, the number-two Dem in the Senate (and a filibuster proponent in 2018), ranted about it in a floor speech and called for change. The Overton window on the left is moving towards passing bills by simple majority in the Senate, and not just by tweaking the 60-vote rule. Yesterday Dem Sen. Ben Cardin was overheard telling Pete Buttigieg that a massive new infrastructure package will probably pass via budget reconciliation with 50 votes, which isn’t the sort of scenario one should be envisioning this early in the process *if* you intend to negotiate with the Senate minority to try to win Republican votes. Cardin’s comment is evidence that Dems are prepared to move their agenda on party lines, never mind all of Biden’s talk during the campaign about unity and compromise:
Sen. Ben Cardin, as heard on a C-SPAN mic, tells Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that Democrats will “most likely have to use reconciliation” on an infrastructure package as they did with the Covid relief bill.
“The Republicans will be with you to a point, and then—“ pic.twitter.com/d4Pc49WlIl
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 15, 2021
Infrastructure spending can be plausibly treated as a budgetary matter for reconciliation purposes, requiring no adjustments to the filibuster. Matters like election reform, the subject of H.R. 1, can’t be. Schumer has two questions to face in deciding whether to go nuclear to pass a bill like that. First, how much further is he willing to go procedurally in the name of moving that bill once the GOP starts using other tricks to obstruct the process? Matt Glassman is right that the filibuster rule isn’t the only one that might have to change in order to thwart Republican obstruction. The entire institutional culture of the Senate will have to shift, leaving the minority handcuffed:
There's just no majority party I can imagine that would nuke the filibuster but still leave in place a system that required unanimous consent to conduct routine business if people were taking advantage of it for dilatory reasons.
— Matt Glassman (@MattGlassman312) March 16, 2021
McConnell goes so far as to say at one point that nuking the filibuster would actually *slow down* the Democrats’ agenda because the GOP would begin withholding unanimous consent to basic requests that help move business along day to day right now. That’s Glassman’s point: There’s really no such thing as a “tactical” strike on the legislative filibuster. If you do it, you need to be prepared to follow through by nuking all manner of other procedures that could be used to impede passage of legislation.
The second question is whether a new Senate majority led by McConnell would have the political will to enact the sort of aggressive conservative policies he described in the tweet at the top of this post. Just because Republicans are likely to gain seats in the midterms doesn’t mean they’ll have 51 votes to move every bill they like. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney will still be there, and Lisa Murkowski remains a favorite in her Senate race in Alaska. But (a) the party is getting more, not less, Trumpy, and may see an influx of senators after the midterms who are more willing to own the libs with their legislative choices. (Murkowski could conceivably be replaced by Sarah Palin, for instance. And (b) if Schumer does go nuclear in service to passing an aggressive progressive agenda, the appetite for revenge among the righty base will be ravenous and that’s destined to influence even centrists like Collins and Romney. In a vacuum, Collins might not support 50-state concealed-carry reciprocity. But after Dems eliminate a bunch of rules designed to protect the Senate minority’s rights and then ram through a bad, bloated election reform bill like H.R. 1? Sure. Even Collins might be more open to lib-owning after that.
Even if the GOP didn’t pass a single wishlist item of its own, the end of the filibuster would mean they could repeal Democratic wishlist items like H.R. 1 as early as 2025, assuming a Republican president is elected in the next cycle. Schumer would be gambling that the Dems’ agenda would prove so popular with voters that the new, Trumpier congressional GOP would simply lose its nerve in moving to undo it even though any repeal scenario would necessarily mean Republicans had done well enough in the next two election cycles by running against the Democratic platform to have regained total control of government. There’s a lot riding on that bet. If I had to guess, to the extent Schumer’s willing to reform the filibuster, it won’t be by eliminating it altogether. He’ll consider some sort of subject-matter carve-out — no more filibusters for election legislation like H.R. 1, for instance, as Abrams wants — but leave it intact for legislation on other subjects. That’ll create new headaches for him (retaliation by the next GOP majority, pressure from the left to expand the carve-out to things like immigration and gun-control legislation) but it may avert a full scorched-earth scenario.
Here’s McConnell preaching fire and brimstone this morning in his own uniquely McConnell way.